No. 4 Wisconsin’s D work in progress with stars and youth
By GENARO C. ARMAS
AP Sports Writer
Sunday, August 26
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The bar is set high for the Wisconsin defense.
The roster might turn over, but the fourth-ranked Badgers’ D rarely crumbles. Since 2013, Wisconsin is second nationally in both scoring defense (16.1 points) and total defense (282.6 yards).
But to return to that level this year, Wisconsin might need some young or inexperienced players to grow up quickly. So far, coach Paul Chryst likes what he has seen in the preseason.
The first test for the team’s unusual defensive blend of top-flight talent up the middle and untested replacements on the edges comes Friday night against Western Kentucky in the season opener.
“I like what the guys have done. There’s a group that’s played a lot of football on defense that we have an idea of what to expect,” Chryst said after practice on Sunday. “And then we’ll have a number of players where this will be their first snaps.
“I feel like they’re confident and ready for that next challenge, but it is a challenge,” he added.
Wisconsin will rely on a play making core up the middle for veteran stability, starting with preseason All-American inside linebacker T.J. Edwards. A key cog since his freshman year, Edwards has more starts (39) than anyone else on defense.
Returning to top-10 status on defense might take a little time as guys get used to each other in game action, but Edwards said he is excited by the possibilities.
“We definitely set our goals high and we want to be around (being a top-flight defense). But I think it comes with chemistry,” he said. “With having a lot of new pieces, it’s something that we’re going to have to build during the games and kind of figure out how everyone plays.”
Wisconsin is breaking in new starters at defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback. At safety, promising redshirt freshman Scott Nelson takes over a starting job alongside four-year starter D’Cota Dixon. Even quarterback Alex Hornibrook has noticed how well Nelson has played in camp.
“Scott’s a playmaker. He’s an opportunist,” Dixon said. “He’s much ahead of the game for his age.”
He’ll begin his college career as a starter, as will another redshirt freshman, cornerback Faion Hicks. Sophomore Caesar Williams, who played two games last season, was listed as the other starter on the season’s first depth chart.
“If you don’t have a huge natural separation, I think one thing that can separate is consistency, and I think that’s what you see in them, the consistent approach,” Chryst said.
Outside linebacker might have the smoothest transition with Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun taking over as the starters. Both players have seen snaps as backups, and Van Ginkel showed his playmaking prowess late last season with a combined two interceptions and a fumble recovery against Ohio State and Miami.
Senior nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, who regularly draws double teams, will anchor a line that will have redshirt freshmen Matt Henningsen and Kayden Lyles starting at end because of injuries to presumed starters Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk.
Rand is out for the year, while Loudermilk could be back for Big Ten play. Lyles was moved over from offensive line when camp started to help with depth.
It’s a work in progress, though the Badgers do have the luxury of a manageable nonconference schedule before the conference opener on Sept. 22 at Iowa.
They also have a rock at inside linebacker in Edwards, who can help raise the level of play of his young teammates.
“I think I can try to be a better leader vocally, but in terms of doing things outside my game, I’m not worried about it at all,” Edwards said. “I know those guys are going to make those plays when the time comes.”
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Dangerous stereotypes stalk black college athletes
August 20, 2018
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Connecticut
Joseph Cooper does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
If you go strictly by the official account, heatstroke was the cause of death for University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair. McNair died earlier this year following a grueling practice in which training staff failed to properly diagnose and treat his condition.
But there’s another culprit – or at least a contributing factor – that should not be overlooked.
As I argue in my forthcoming book – “From Exploitation Back to Empowerment: Black Male Holistic (Under) Development Through Sport and (Mis) Education” – what threatens black college athletes such as McNair is not just the brutal treatment to which they are subjected on the field.
Rather, it is a long-standing and deadly stereotype in American society that views black males as subhuman and superhuman all at once.
This stereotype, which is complex and has many layers, holds that black male athletes have superior athletic abilities that enable them to excel at high levels in sports such as football. The stereotype also holds that black males have a distinct physicality that allows them to endure extreme amounts of pain.
This is the same myth that was used to justify the enslavement and mistreatment of black people in America from before the Civil War through today’s era of mass incarceration. In fact, a case can be made that there are many parallels between the exploitation of black student-athletes today and how black labor was exploited during American slavery.
McNair also appears to have fallen victim to a sports culture in the U.S. that promotes a win-at-all-costs mentality. This culture also places an inordinate amount of emphasis on generating revenue. And it represents a damaging view of masculinity.
I make these arguments as a scholar who focuses on the nexus between sport, education, race and culture.
Perceptions of black strength
I assert that black males in general, and black student-athletes in particular, are viewed primarily as physical beings – sometimes seen as “beasts” and the like. This dehumanizes them in ways that threaten their well-being.
Although such terms as “beasts” are widely embraced in mainstream culture and in some instances by black athletes themselves, such as Marshawn Lynch, whose “Beast Mode” clothing line is drawn from his nickname, these terms are still harmful. This is especially the case in sports, where masculinity is equated with toughness, playing through pain and not giving up.
Former Raven John Urschel opens up about retirement, concussions, football and math.
It may be true that these ideas are applied to male athletes in general. But these views impact black males even more due to their unique experiences in the United States. Just as they did during the days of chattel slavery, I argue that deeply embedded stereotypes about the physical capacity of black individuals to endure pain results in their perpetual mistreatment in the sports arena.
The stereotypes about black males’ work ethic in sports like football and basketball has resulted in their higher incidences of cardiac deaths.
Not valued for intellect
Black student-athletes are also subject to educational neglect. Consider, for instance, the various academic scandals in big-time college sports. Some of these scandals involved cases in which black male athletes were found to be illiterate, but still allowed to compete in their respective sports and generate millions of dollars for the institutions.
Black males are often deemed as intellectually inferior and morally deficient. For example, black males are disproportionately more likely to be enrolled in special education courses versus gifted courses in the K-12 education system. They are also less likely than their white peers to have their race and gender associated with being intelligent or academic achievement.
For black male athletes, the dumb jock stereotype is commonplace and reinforced by the fact that they are more likely to be admitted to college academically under prepared, more likely to be enrolled in perceived “easy” or less rigorous courses so that they can remain eligible to play sports, and less likely to graduate compared to their peers.
Despite this academic neglect, black males continue to constitute a majority of the participants on football and men’s basketball teams, 55 and 56 percent, respectively, in big-time college sports. This highlights how they are more valued for their athletic abilities than for their academic promise.
This is what enables sports organizers and coaches to present college sports to black males as a viable way to make it in society.
The view of black males as super-human is present in arenas other than sports. It lurks behind many of the police killings of black men of late. This was highlighted in the infamous police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, when police officer Darren Wilson described the 18-year-old Brown as a “demon” and “Hulk Hogan”-like.
Beyond the glitz and glamour
This type of pathological labeling applies in football. Black males’ physicality is exploited. For example, at the University of Alabama, where head coach Nick Saban is paid US$11.1 million per year, black males represent 80 percent of the starters on the team. Yet, not only are black male student-athletes not equitably compensated based on market value for their athletic abilities, they also graduate at a lower rate – 59 percent – compared to 71 percent for their athlete peers and 67 percent for the general student body. Thus, they are simultaneously academically under served and athletically exploited in terms of economic compensation.
With both stereotypes – subhuman and superhuman – in play, black males within sport and beyond are systematically dehumanized and consequently deprived of the love, care and attention that should come with their humanity.
The large amounts of money being generated in college football, along with the increased commercialization and celebrity flair associated with the sport, creates an illusion of fun, American grit and a unique brand of entertainment.
But behind all the glitz and glamour are factors that contribute to the exploitation of athletes. These factors also result in undetected or undeserved – and entirely preventable – long-term health problems such as depression and high blood pressure, and in some instances, deaths.
The need for reform
In terms of medical coverage, colleges are not required to assist college athletes beyond their athletic eligibility years even though injuries they suffer in college can affect them for the rest of their lives.
Over the past several decades, organizations such as the National College Players’ Association have advocated for increased medical coverage and protections for college athletes. The founder of the NCPA, former UCLA player Ramogi Huma, established the advocacy group after he discovered that the NCAA prevented UCLA from paying medical expenses from injuries that occurred during summer workouts.
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh recently stated that the university had accepted “legal and moral” responsibility in the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair. That’s a step in the right direction.
An acceptance of responsibility is not enough, though. Serious systemic reform and a change in culture is needed. These changes must address racism and racist stereotypes that lead to mistreatment of black athletes.
U.S. society must also confront its unhealthy obsession with sports glory, commercialism and overall neglect of athletes’ rights and well-being.
One important reform that should be adopted immediately to benefit all college athletes is to require all medical staff for teams be independent from coaches’ and athletic department authority. This was something reportedly proposed and rejected at the University of Maryland.
There should also be an advocacy group separate from the NCAA to help college athletes negotiate with the colleges they attend for improved working conditions related to safety and their overall well-being. This includes an improved academic experience, mental health support, and help with making the transition to their life after sports.
Could the future edge in college sports be mental wellness?
August 24, 2018
Professor of Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Bradley Donohue has received funding from the National Institutes of Health.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
We live in a sports-oriented culture. In the United States alone, there are about 8 million high school students participating in sports, almost a half a million students in the National Collegiate Athletics Association, and many more play organized sports in club or intramural leagues. A small percentage of these students will go on to become elite college athletes, often revered by their universities’ fans and alumni.
While often glorified, these athletes also experience unique stresses that many of us may not understand. These include performance demands that require extensive mental precision, fatigue due to irregular and strenuous training and competitive schedules, ongoing scrutiny from others, separations from loved ones, and a culture supporting intense emotional expression.
While sport activities amplify opportunities to develop character, confidence, relationships and so on, research examining the impact of sport on mental health appears to indicate athletes may have similar or higher rates of psychological disorders as their non-athlete peers, but perhaps with special considerations.
Six years ago, my research team initiated the first clinical trial involving collegiate athletes who were formally assessed for mental health conditions. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the study was conducted to examine the effectiveness of two very different approaches to improving mental health in collegiate athletes. Specifically, we studied traditional counseling and psychological services compared with an experimental optimization program that emphasized performance, family inclusion and sport culture. We wanted to learn whether there might be more effective ways to reach college athletes and help improve all aspects of their mental health.
Optimization approach to mental health
Although athletes have consistently reported the importance of coaches, family and teammates in their lives, traditional campus counseling and psychological services usually only involve the athletes in therapy sessions. Also, it has been our experience that traditional services rarely address sport culture formally, and they usually require athletes to evidence psychiatric symptoms, upset or dysfunction in some way in order to receive mental health services. We believe these practices deter athletes from pursuing counseling that may have been beneficial due to perceived stigma.
In our trial, we altered a family behavior therapy that has demonstrated success in the improvement of mental health and social functioning, to address sport culture. To decrease potential for perceived stigma that sometimes occurs when pursuing psychological intervention, the University’s associate athletic director at the time named the newly developed intervention The Optimum Performance Program in Sports, or TOPPS. Also, we made it possible for athletes to receive intervention regardless of mental health symptom severity. This was important because it positively branded TOPPS and normalized mental health along a continuum of optimization that could be shared by all athletes.
We attempted to create a culture of optimization and not of illness. The providers of TOPPS are referred to as performance coaches, treatment plans are performance plans, motivational posters and university sport paraphernalia cover walls. Freely distributed T-shirts and water bottles have pictures of the TOPPS logo with catchy phrases that appeal to college students (for example, “Wanna be on TOPP”).
In explaining the Optimization Model to athletes, we asserted that performance in sport, and life in general, is influenced by thoughts, behaviors and emotions.
We helped them to understand that because emotions are particularly difficult to control, it is usually easier to focus mental skills training on behaviors and thoughts, which are all somewhere on a continuum from non-optimal to optimal. There is no assumption of mental health illness, although mental health conditions may exist. In this way, discussion of pathology and weakness or dysfunction is unnecessary, inspiring athletes to participate in TOPPS to get an edge in sport performance while concurrently optimizing mental health.
Not focusing on pathological content makes it easier to implement TOPPS performance programming in non-office settings, such as sport fields, for two reasons. First, athletes feel more comfortable involving their significant others in goal achievement exercises. Second, practicing in non-office settings enhances generalization of skills to real-world environments.
The interventions in TOPPS were developed to be exciting, goal-oriented and challenging. Each meeting starts with an exercise to assist optimum mindset in an upcoming event, such as practicing relaxation prior to an exam or improving focus before a free throw. To assist optimization in these exercises, performance coaches help the athlete use brainstorming to generate optimum thoughts and emotional intensity, and performance coaches model and encourage athletes to practice the respective mindsets in simulated scenarios. Athletes are assigned to practice these skills at home.
And, while studies have consistently indicated providers of psychological interventions should address ethnic and sport culture when working with athletes, TOPPS is designed to formally embrace culture using validated interviews. In doing so, athletes are prompted to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree that their own culture is important, and similarly the extent to which they agree or disagree they’ve experienced difficulties or offensive remarks due to their culture. Whether they agree or disagree, performance coaches listen and ask questions to better understand where they’re coming from prior to discussing potential commonalities between their own cultural backgrounds or perhaps empathizing with concerns. We believe this individualized approach assists in truly understanding the potential impact of culture in sports and life, in general without judgments, generalizations, or quick to understand statements.
Also, performance coaches encourage goals that are specific to mental health, sport performance, doing well for others, and avoiding undesired behaviors such as substance misuse and sexual risk behaviors. Significant others reward their efforts with acknowledgment and rewards.
Other components in TOPPS include performance planning, in which athletes prioritize available performance programs, methods of improving motivation, communication skills training (with family, coaches and teammates), environmental- and self-control skills training (including organization strategies, methods of refocusing undesired thoughts, diaphragmatic breathing, problem-solving, imagery), dream job development, job getting skills training and financial management.
NIH study results
In our trial, we formally assessed 74 athletes who were interested in participating in a goal-oriented program to assist their performance in sport and life, in general. They completed a battery of assessment tools that measured severity of mental health symptoms, factors interfering with sport performance, relationships with family, teammates and coaches, alcohol and non-prescribed drug use, and sexual risk behavior. Consistent with other studies, approximately half of the participants were determined to show evidence of a current mental health condition. We then randomly assigned them to traditional campus counseling or TOPPS.
Prior to intervention, participants in each of the two experimental groups responded similarly to assessment measures and reported similar expectations for how well they would do in the program. Assessments occurred four and eight months after the initiation of intervention.
Results indicated that participants in TOPPS and traditional counseling and psychological services were satisfied with the intervention they received. However, compared with participants in traditional services, participants in TOPPS attended more meetings, reported greater satisfaction with services, and demonstrated significantly better outcomes than traditional counseling, particularly when mental health/substance use was more pronounced. Anonymous narrative responses were consistent with these results. For instance, one participant who received TOPPS reported:
“This program did wonders for me. Before starting this program, I was depressed about (the participant’s specific sport was reported) and where my life seemed to be going. This program has rejuvenated how I view myself, others around me and the direction I know I need to go. (The sport was reported) is again a huge thing in my life, and I enjoy my friends and family more. The hardest thing that I still must improve on is my pot use. I have cut back and now am confident one day I will be completely clean when my life will depend on it most.”
More research is needed to determine the effects of TOPPS, particularly in other specialized populations that require uniquely shared skill sets, such as artists, firefighters, musicians and military personnel.
However, both quantitative and qualitative analyses suggest TOPPS may offer promise as an alternative to traditional intervention programs in collegiate athletes, regardless of their mental health diagnostic severity or competitive level.